The Chinese balloon that traversed the United States recently was a much bigger deal than the Biden administration has led Americans to believe.
Loaded with sophisticated collection capabilities, it was allowed to loiter, undisturbed, over sensitive locations across the United States. While startling to many Americans, the administration has turned that same blind eye to the drones employed by drug cartels on our southern border, facilitating an endless flow of illegal aliens and drugs into the United States.
Whether this happens through ineptitude or dereliction of duty, our government must stop gaslighting the American people and engage these threats before they manifest into something we can no longer manage with rhetoric.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) detected the Chinese spy balloon long before it entered U.S. airspace. The fact that it wasn’t intercepted off the West Coast, visually inspected, and then destroyed when it was found to be an intelligence-gathering platform is the height of irresponsibility by the administration.
Unfortunately, that lackadaisical posture seems to have been adopted by leadership within the Department of Defense.
Air Force Gen. Glen Van Herck, the commander of NORAD, said that as the balloon approached Alaska, he assessed that it did not pose a “physical military threat” to North America. That statement masks the underlying threat the balloon’s collection capabilities pose for future military operations against the U.S. The fidelity or sensitivity of optical, electronic, and signal collection devices increases significantly as the distance to a target decreases.
Cameras on satellites in low earth orbit can take quite revealing pictures of military installations. However, the same camera mounted on a balloon at 65,000 feet would deliver 36 times more optical fidelity, in addition to advanced infrared imaging. Recently declassified intelligence has also noted antenna systems on the balloon with signals intelligence apparatuses “likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications.”
Last week’s balloon carried “only” an intelligence-gathering payload flying over critical U.S. military sites. But four years ago, the Chinese supposedly tested the capability of high-altitude balloons to launch hypersonic missiles from high altitude balloons. The notion that these platforms do not threaten the United States is laughable.
The administration’s handling of the Chinese intelligence balloon fleet and the unattributed objects shot down over Alaska, Canada, and Lake Huron has raised more questions than answers. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only aerial threats this administration has turned a blind eye towards.
During recent testimony before Congress, border patrol agents testified that there were more than 10,000 drone incursions across our southern border in 2022, an average of 27 daily. These systems’ range, capability, and cost make them ideal intelligence-gathering sensors for cartels.
The vast majority of those drones, like Da-Jiang Innovations’ Mavic Air 2, are Chinese. They can fly for more than 30 minutes and transmit live, high-definition video more than six miles from its operator.
That allows cartels to locate border patrol agents and pin them down with a flow of illegal immigrants. At the same time, Coyotes reposition drug mules and higher-value individuals to move through the gaps in Border Patrol coverage.
According to border patrol statistics, more than 90% of the fentanyl seized in 2021 was uncovered at legal border entry points where roughly 30% of illegal immigrants move into the U.S. The others cross into more remote regions of Texas and Arizona, where drones are often employed.
While 70% of the crossings occur in those remote areas, just 5% of all the fentanyl confiscated by the border patrol in 2021 was seized there—a testimony to the effectiveness of the cartels’ drone-aided tactics.
And it’s not just the cartels analyzing drone-gathered data. Information revealing Border Patrol agents’ tactics, as well as the gaps within and the weaknesses along our southern border, is being fed back to servers in China and, by definition, to the Chinese Communist Party, through the software used by the Chinese drones.
Customs and Border Protection has secured a contract and issued requests for information in recent years for counter-unmanned aircraft systems technology. Still, they are being overwhelmed and need additional support from a thus-far feckless administration. Look no further than recent reporting that the administration has allowed CBP’s “Eyes in the Sky” balloon border-intelligence-gathering fleet to wither on a vine, cutting the program from 12 to four systems.
Like the “no physical threat” narrative surrounding the Chinese spy balloon and recent shootdowns of unidentified objects, the Biden administration uses its success interdicting drugs and illegal immigrants to mask concerns about the drugs and nefarious individuals they are wholly missing.
The administration must provide CBP with the tools and resources to repel and diminish these drone threats sooner rather than later. The U.S. military has invested significant time and attention to these threats to our military. In the near term, some of the technologies used to counter adversary drone systems, such as Iran in the Gulf, could be applied with National Guard contingencies supplementing CBP’s capabilities. Both narratives must end for the sake and safety of the American people. Our government must engage these threats before they manifest into something that cripples this great nation.
This piece originally appeared in 19fortyfive